The Whitney Awards, and the power of Horror

As I said yesterday, I recently won an award. Specifically, I won the Whitney Award for Best New Author of 2009, which is an award for LDS authors–not for LDS fiction, but for fiction of any kind that happens to be written by LDS people. A lot of people don’t know that the LDS community has a very large, very healthy publishing market, covering everything from Romance to Thrillers; there are also a ton of “mainstream” authors who are LDS, including people like Tracy Hickman, Brandon Sanderson, David Farland, and Stephenie Meyer. The Whitney is relatively new (this is only its third year), but it is gaining a lot of traction and the competition is very high. This year I was up against people like John Brown, author of the incredible fantasy Servant of a Dark God, and Aprilynne Pike, author of the NYT bestseller Wings. I’m incredibly pleased (and, frankly, quite surprised) to have won.

The thing is, I write horror. Horror gets really stigmatized, even in mainstream circles; every year at the World Horror Convention we have at least one panel where we talk about how and why horror gets so marginalized, and what we can do to change it. Most major bookstores don’t even have a horror section anymore–Barnes & Noble shelves me in General Fiction, because there simply isn’t anywhere else to put me. So in a famously conservative religious community, I figured the reaction would be even worse–right after the nominations were announced, in fact, John Brown and I congratulated each other, laughed about how the voters wouldn’t give us a second thought, and went merrily on our way. Then last week I won for Best New Author and John won for Best Speculative Fiction. What the what?

The thing I’ve learned over the last several weeks, touring around and talking to hundreds of people about what they read, is that no matter how much we say we don’t like horror, most of us secretly love it, even if we don’t realize it. Horror as a word is stigmatized, but horror as a concept is why we love reading. Every story has a conflict–every story has something wrong that must be changed, or conquered, or survived. In thrillers, you face the horror that someone is lying to you, or means you harm. In historical fiction you face the horror of a dangerous or unconscionable situation. In romance you face the horror that you’ve given your heart to someone who doesn’t want it, and you will have to live your life alone. Horror is central to literature because it is central to life; these themes are universal because we have all experienced them, and they are valuable because experiencing them makes us stronger. Good overcomes evil, even if the only character who survives is the reader.

As my book makes the rounds, and comments trickle in through email and Twitter and in person, the most common comment I get is this: “I never read this kind of book, but I loved it.” Most people have a horror-lover somewhere inside of them, they just don’t know it. If my book can convince a few people to try something new, hooray.

6 Responses to “The Whitney Awards, and the power of Horror”

  1. I’m just glad that who I voted for in everything actually won-and that I had the privilege and honor of not only voting but getting to shake your hand and present the award to you. Rock on!

  2. Arlene says:

    I never read this kind of book, but I loved it. Wait….no, I read this kind of stuff all the time and I still love it. Okay, that’s not true either, but I would definitely put myself somewhere in the middle. A book that ISN’T categorised as horror but that might warrant the designation is “The Hunger Games”. Just putting that out there.

  3. I read horror. Love it much. Stephen King is my writer-hero.

    Your book is distinctive in that it delves even deeper into the psyche of characters in a horrific situation than anything King wrote. I think this is because your protagonist is a sociopath whom we like.

    That took great skill. Color me impressed. You deserved the award.

  4. Patty Richardson says:

    Congrats Dan!

    Everyone has to face fear in some way or another. Reading about someone else facing the unknown gives the reader the opportunity to safely go through the same experience. However from the comfort of their own chair/bed/couch.

    Love it.

  5. Angie says:

    Congratulations on your Whitney award!

  6. Hannah says:

    The problem with reading certain horror novels is that when you lend the book to someone else they freak out, throw the book across the room in fear and glare at you. And then your mum tells you that if it’s that creepy you can’t buy the next one. Which is annoying because I had to get said book mailed from America and paid a good $10.50 for it.
    It’s ok though, because everyone ELSE I lent it to loved it.

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